Do you follow up on a task by email, text and phone? Do you ask people if they received your previous email message with another email? Believe it or not, how you communicate is just as important as where you communicate. Using the wrong channel at the wrong time can erode trust and signify poor digital body language. This is why it’s important to create norms around when to use different communication mediums.
I was recently brought in to assess a team’s digital communications. The division leader wanted to know why he was dealing with so much dysfunction: missed deadlines, ignored emails, reports of uncomfortable chat room conversations, and passive aggressive behaviors amongst peers.
What I discovered was that the team was using collaboration tools in all the wrong ways. Skype messenger had become an easy way to avoid necessary face-to-face collaboration. Team members were sharing the same messages and documents in multiple collaboration tools, making it hard to know where to go for what. Many employees were commenting on tasks to colleagues using 10-word Slack messages, without fully explaining if the message was an opinion or immediate action request.
Yikes, they were in bad shape.
To get them out of a place of dysfunction and into a place of effective communcation and collaboration, I had them consider 4 factors: length, complexity, familiarity and discipline.
- Length is the easiest variable to manage. Quite simply, if you have long updates, lean into a medium like email and stay away from channels like instant messaging. Is this a short FYI, a team status update or a detailed brief prior to a board meeting? Choose the right channel for the length of the message
- Complexity (by definition) is less straightforward. Sensitive information is harder to share easily. The rule of thumb is this: bigger, broader ideas require more flexibility. if you are making a complex argument it’s often best to select a medium, such as phone or face to face or a powerpoint presentation, that allows for greater trust building and supporting elements, like photos, video and quick feedback.
- Familiarity refers not only to our relationship with the recipient(s) but also the contents of our updates. If we have a close…